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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 03/ 1/2010

Meteorological bomb explodes over New England

By Andrew Freedman

Storm fits the season's odd pattern

* Another week, another storm? Full Forecast & SLCB | CWG T-Shirts! *
* Bob Ryan's farewell at 4 | Winter by the numbers | Md. snow record *

In a winter characterized by a seemingly endless parade of East Coast storms, it can be tough for a particular event to stand out. "Snopocalypse," "Snowmageddon" and "Snoverkill" etched themselves into the mid-Atlantic's memory through the sheer volume of snow, and the repeated occurrence of rare blizzard conditions.

Infrared satellite image Sunday night, Feb. 28, as the storm that dealt a major blow to New England re-energizes offshore near Novia Scotia, retrograding toward Maine. Credit: NASA

The intense storm of late last week (which is still lashing parts of New England and Nova Scotia) will long be remembered as well, except by people who reside a bit farther north than the nation's capital.

The storm displayed three of the main qualities that have become hallmarks of this wearying winter. First: it strengthened rapidly, in a process that geeky folks like myself call "bombogenesis." Few things get a weather junkie as excited as when a low "bombs out" just offshore. The atmospheric pressure fell to absurdly low levels in locations such as Martha's Vineyard (28.76 in.), Hyannis (28.71 in.) and Boston, Mass. (28.72 in.).

Recording of wind speed, temperature and atmospheric pressure at the Isle of Shoals Lighthouse station near Portsmouth, N.H., Feb. 22-27. The huge spike in winds that coincided with the spectacular plunge in pressure is similar to observations from a landfalling hurricane. Credit: NOAA/NWS/NDBC.

In response to the huge change in atmospheric pressure, the winds roared around the periphery of the surface low, from Maine to Virginia.

Peak gusts included an unofficial report of 94 mph in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and official readings of 78 mph in Portland, Maine, and 67 mph in Beverly, Mass. At one point, observers on the summit of the 6,288-foot Mount Washington in New Hampshire reported sustained winds of 104 mph with gusts up to 123 mph. That's the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane (looks like they're trying to reclaim their all-time world wind record sooner rather than later).

Credit: Eric Holthaus.

The second characteristic of the February capstone storm, which was dubbed a "snowicane" by AccuWeather, was its bizarre movement. For much of this winter, the upper-air pattern has blocked East Coast storms from moving north into New England and then out to sea, which is a typical path for an, ahem, well-behaved nor'easter.

With this most recent storm, the upper-air pattern permitted the intense storm to get close enough to deliver a major blow to New England as the center of the storm took a track just to the south of Cape Cod, before pushing it west to near New York City.

Yes, you read that right, the storm moved from east to west. In the winter of 2009-10, anything goes, even retrograding.

Animated radar from Feb. 25. Credit: Weather Underground.

The third element of the storm that fit into the broad storyline of this winter is that many of the normally snowy places, such as Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, missed out on the heaviest snows while the storm was at its peak intensity (although they did receive snow at the front and back ends of the storm). Instead, all but the highest elevations of northern New England, along with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and much of Connecticut were placed under flash flood watches and warnings, while the storm dumped 20.9 inches of snow on Central Park in New York City. Other snow totals included: 53 inches at Potter Hollow, N.Y., 34 inches in Highland Mills, N.Y., 28.0 inches in West Milford, N.J. and 21 inches in Chapaqua, N.Y.

Take it from me, a native Bostonian: having it rain in Boston while it is snowing in New York is just about the worst thing that can happen to a Bostonian who loves the snow. It's almost as bad as the Yankees beating the Red Sox.

New York City actually set a new all-time monthly snowfall record because of this storm, with 36.9 inches of snow falling in February. The old monthly record was 30.5 inches (set in 1896!). This record is especially noteworthy since New York was not hit as hard as D.C. was by prior storms this month, and since February is the shortest month of the winter.

By Andrew Freedman  | March 1, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Freedman, News & Notes, Science  
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Next: PM Update: Calm before the near-miss storm?


ok, lovely... the storm missed us, and if i understand correctly, is now "blocking" this tues/wed storm from hitting us?!

this is quickly becoming my least favorite storm of all time....

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 1, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Because of last week's storm Central Park is fast catching up to DCA.

DCA: 56"
NYC: 51.4"

CWG, pls conjure a snowfall for DC that bypasses NYC so New Yawkers don't win this year's snow derby.

Plus, they've got Jeter, already.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | March 1, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Indeed anything goes this winter.. I wonder when our nor'easters will start behaving again. I am glad Andrew reminded them of proper decorum (movement from east to west!) :-)

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | March 1, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

How much was this fueled by warm oceans? And how does Xynthia fit in?

Posted by: ABHFGTY | March 1, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

ABHFGTY: I am not aware of any proven links to abnormally warm ocean temps this winter. Xynthia, which is a winter storm that is still lashing Europe, developed from the same overall weather pattern that has repeatedly blasted the eastern seaboard of the US with snowstorms this season.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | March 1, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Great summary, Andrew!

So there is no confusion, although bombs often appear hurricane like with winds exceeding hurricane force and frequently have an eye-like appearance in satellite pictures, bombs and hurricanes are totally different in atmospheric structure and physical processes responsible for their development. For example, hurricanes are warm core with high pressure (anticyclonic circulation) over the surface low, while bombs become cold core with low pressure (cyclonic circulation) aloft.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | March 1, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse


There has been constant trending NW with the storm for Tues/Wed. The 18Z NAM continues to bring the low closer to coast and increase QPF into DC. The NAM project a 980-978 MB storm off VA coast.

The latest NAM gives DC 1-3 inches and southest toward coast 2-4 and maybe 3-6 in Delaware.

This storm needs to be monitored since it still could deliver one last wintry suprise to our area overnight Tuesday into Wed.

Posted by: ajmupitt | March 1, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Andrew.....I don't see why you are so surprised that we had several classic "bombogenesis" East Coast storms this winter. Granted, this winter was highly unusual in its repeated ability to funnel cold air down the eastern part of North America and meet up with El Nino-fueled storms and jet streams from the Gulf. But, it is no secret that the Mid-Atlantic/Carolina coast is one of the world's most active baroclinic regions, especially during the cooler months....that's a simple truth that is taught as far back as Climatology 101. The VA/NC coast is notorious for its very sharp winter-season contrast between the cold land and warm Gulf Stream, and is the scene for at least some winter storm development every year, sometimes, as in this december and February, explosively. Add that to the fact that the December and Feb. 5-6 storms already had a massive inflow of moisture from as far south as the equator (you could clearly see that on satellite), and, yes, the scene was set for even more massive development off of Hatteras and some BIG snowstorms for our area. The February 5-6 storm, for example, had such a strong warm-cold frontal contrast that Eastern NC had severe thunderstorms in the warm sector and a tornado watch was issued.

But, of course, the Mid-Atlantic coast is not the only place where this happens. It also happens, to a lesser extent, and with lesser strength, off the TX Gulf Coast, off the East Coast of Asia (China, Korea, Japan), and in certain parts of the Mediterranean. In all of these places, like our own East Coast, warm ocean currents come in close proxmity with cold continents, with prevaling off-shore wind pattern to mix the two.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | March 1, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

This has been my 44th winter in this region and from Dec. 1966 to now, there hasn't been three lollapoolza snowstorms (10-plus inches) here in the same season.

Jan-Feb 1987 is the closest I can recall, when the three heaviest snowfalls averaged c.a. 10" each; however I believe only two of those three snows actually exceeded 10". This season's three biggies averaged a bit over 15" each at DCA and nearly 20" at IAD.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | March 1, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

The first sentence of the previous post should have read

This has been my 44th winter in this region and from Dec. 1966 until now, there had not previously been three lollapoolza snowstorms (10-plus inches) here in the same season.

This season there were definitely three 10"-plus snowfalls but not in any previous winter season that I can recall.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | March 1, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse


Andrew does not say he was surprised about the bombogenesis. He's just reporting what occurred

You are correct that extratropical storms develop along zones of large temperature contrast (fronts), as generally true in winter along the east coast of the U.S.

On the basis of some preliminary analysis I've done what's interesting is that each of the disturbances that ultimately became major weather systems affecting the U.S, including our snowstorms, appeared to originate along an anomalously strong east-west frontal zone extending from Mongolia to northeast China.

Bounded by the subtropical jet to the south and blocking at higher latitudes the series of disturbances emanating from this region propagated eastward and eventually provided the seeds of what ultimately became the principal weather makers this winter

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | March 1, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

We feel their pain...

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | March 1, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

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